A trial of endurance

Last year Manchester barrister Alex Taylor competed at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii. Counsel asked him to share his experience and how he manages training around life at the Bar

By Alex Taylor


Looking back, I guess it must have been some sort of mid-life crisis that drew me to the idea of doing an Ironman before turning 40. For the uninitiated in matters of long distance triathlon, this format involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles on a bike and then a marathon to top it off.

I started my triathlon journey in 2017 with a sprint distance race and I have progressively raised the bar for myself with longer race distances and more challenging performance goals ever since. Last year I not only completed my first Ironman race in South Africa but in doing so managed to bag myself a highly coveted qualification for the prestigious Ironman World Championship in Kona.

The path to Kona has not been easy. As a husband, a father of two energetic youngsters and a barrister with a busy common law practice, I had a fair bit on my plate already. I had given up running in my early 20s due to knee pain and had no competitive swimming background at all. I joined the Manchester Triathlon Club, started to attend regular structured swimming sessions and bit-by-bit got back into running. Most of my bike training has been done on an indoor turbo trainer in my attic as it is safer, more structured and much more time efficient than riding outside.

Keeping all these balls in the air naturally requires organisation and effective time management. It also requires flexibility. The unpredictable working hours and travel commitments at the independent bar can sometimes leave no time or energy for training. Attempting to follow a training schedule that is set in stone will never work. On the flip side, when a trial settles at the last moment or I have a day working on papers there may be a chance to squeeze in some training. It is about taking opportunities when they arise. I also try to start the day at 6.30am with a 4km set in the pool. It is a great feeling to start a working day with a quality training session already under your belt.

A particular challenge of the Hawaii Ironman is the heat and humidity. I prepared for this by doing heat acclimatisation sessions in an environmental chamber. This involved training in temperatures of up to 36 degrees and 80-90% humidity. Just getting through an hour in those conditions felt like a battle won.

As for the race itself, I got through the swim in the tropical clear waters with fish passing below without incident and then out onto the bike. Things went well on the first half of the ride but the famous Kona winds had their say on the way back. Most of the return leg was spent plugging into a headwind and trying not to be knocked off by the fierce sideways gusts. The challenge on the marathon is staying hydrated and avoiding overheating. Aid stations are frequent with plenty of opportunities to load up on cold-water sponges and cups of ice.

I came in at 9 hours 57 minutes, 508th overall in a field of 2,500 qualifiers. Considering it was the world championships, I was delighted. It is hard to put into words just how brutal this event is. The heat, humidity and wind make it a really severe test.

I must take this opportunity to thank:

1. My family, especially my wife, for their inspiration, tolerance and support. They were with me every stroke, pedal turn and step of the way and my achievement is in every sense theirs as well.

2. My clerks in Chambers who have always been encouraging, supportive and understanding as I have tried to balance family, work and training. I am fortunate to be a member of a set in which value is placed on having a balanced life and wellbeing is taken seriously.

I have found it highly fulfilling to have some life goals that are completely separate to work. I hope that I have set my children an example of how commitment, motivation and hard work bring their rewards. I would be delighted if this article provides some inspiration to others to take on a personal challenge, whatever that may be.

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Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor has a common law, employment and chancery practice at Deans Court, Manchester.